The building of Gaza’s only Protestant church sustained minor damage in the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas, but the one dozen remaining congregation members are continuing the church’s sizeable outreach ministries despite the risk, according to Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley.
“The Lord is miraculously preserving a witness for himself in Gaza—that is the only possible explanation for the continued survival of Gaza Baptist Church,” says Representative Foley. “There are now fewer than 1,100 Christians living in Gaza amidst 2 million Muslim Palestinians. There is one Catholic church, one Orthodox church, and one Protestant Church: Gaza Baptist.”
Gaza Baptist Church widows support group led by Pauline Ayyad (2nd from left), widow of Gaza Baptist church leader and Christian bookstore manager Remi Ayyad, who was martyred in 2007.
According to Representative Foley, the church was founded in 1954 by Southern Baptist missionaries. “Hanna Massad, who converted from Greek Orthodoxy to the Baptist faith in his youth, became the church’s first Gazan-born pastor, in 1987,” says Representative Foley. “The church grew to around 200 members by the early 2000’s and were meeting in a six-story building, which they still use. But in 2007, Hamas took over the Gaza Strip, and Christians became subject to the severe religious restrictions of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. Christians began to flee the territory. Pastor Massad himself was forced to relocate to the United States due to a series of violent attacks on the church’s building and members. A church-related bookstore, the only Christian bookstore in Gaza, was firebombed. Rami Ayyad, one of the church leaders, who also served as the bookstore’s manager, was martyred in an execution-style killing.”
Representative Foley says that today only about a dozen church members have been able to remain in Gaza, but Pastor Massad leads a weekly worship service via Zoom Conference call that brings together the local Gaza group with Gazan Christians who have been forced to flee from the territory. “Each week the Zoom call strengthens the remaining local believers by keeping them connected in worship with the church’s ‘diaspora’ population in Australia, Europe, America, and across the Middle East.”
According to Representative Foley, the local church members continue to have an impact on Gaza that is far larger than their number. “The church operates a school called the Lighthouse School, through which they make a tremendous Christian witness to the community. In 2006 they opened a library for the community, containing many Christian books. They distribute food and other aid to families in need, both Christian and Muslim. They help widows and orphans. There is even a support group for widows, which is run by the widow of martyr Rami Ayyad.”
Gaza Baptist Church front entrance
Gaza Baptist Church Pastor Hanna Massad
Representative Foley says that Voice of the Martyrs organizations worldwide have supported the church and its various ministries since 2007, when persecution intensified. “Persecution of Christians in Gaza goes back to the time of the Roman empire, yet the Lord has never in history left himself without a witness in that region. But the fewer the believers that have been able to remain and survive, the more important it is for us to care for them. Most recently, Voice of the Martyrs Korea provided funding for the widows’ support group led by Pauline Ayyad. Now, as the church repairs its building from the latest round of conflict and as it continues its outreaches in these difficult times, we are inviting Christians around the world to join us in standing with them once again. So Voice of the Martyrs Korea is designating all donations to our Families of Martyrs and Prisoners fund through the end of June for Gaza Baptist Church and all of its associated outreach ministries.”
Representative Foley says that those who are interested in helping the Christians in Gaza can make their donation at www.vomkorea.com/en/donation or give via electronic transfer to:
국민은행 (KB Bank) 463501-01-243303
예금주 (Account holder): (사)순교자의소리
Please include the phrase “FOM” on the donation (for “Families of Martyrs”).